/ 24 March 2021

Moyane too ill to testify at Zondo commission after days of damning allegations

Former Sars commissioner Tom Moyane.
Former Sars commissioner Tom Moyane. (Gallo/Phil Magakoe)

Former South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane is suffering from a serious illness and unable to testify at the Zondo commission on Thursday, according to his lawyers, after days of testimony on the wreckage of his tenure at the tax agency.

Evidence leader Alistair Franklin informed commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo of the letter from Moyane’s lawyers after concluding the questioning of former senior Sars official Vlok Symington.

They had traversed the now familiar terrain of Symington’s manhandling on 18 October 2016 by Moyane’s bodyguard, Thabo Titi, in the commissioner’s board room.

Symington said it dawned on him while he was effectively “held hostage” by Titi and officers from the Hawks that they wanted to retrieve an email from him that cast doubt on fraud charges contrived against then finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

He was sent a document from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that contained an email trail at the bottom, including a legal opinion from David Makapela, an attorney for Sars, that said he could not support the view that Gordhan had acted unlawfully in approving the early retirement of Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.

Symington described Makapela’s letter as “exculpatory” of Gordhan, at a point when a complaint by Moyane formed the basis for the NPA to charge the minister with fraud relating to the retirement matter.

The charges were brought in October 2016 and withdrawn later the same month, but were a precursor to then president Jacob Zuma firing the minister in what would mark the start of years of instability at the treasury.

Symington said he was mystified by the demand that he hand over the document he was holding and refused because of a culture in Sars to take the greatest of care with files for reasons of confidentiality.

The document had been a request from prosecutor Torie Pretorius to answer questions relating to Pillay’s retirement.

“To make a long story short, it later turned out at the bottom was attached emails, the email trail that originated at the NPA went to the Hawks and then to Mr Moyane.

“Obviously they wanted the emails out of my hands,” he said.

Symington recounted that a man asked him to “hand over that letter from Mr Pretorius”, adding that he assumed the man was a member of the Hawks, only to realise that he was Moyane’s bodyguard.

He said he managed to call security staff to Sars to the boardroom after trying and failing to call the police to the scene, but the security guards could not enter the room because Titi forced the door shut.

Syminton said Moyane later offered a trite, unconvincing apology for the incident. He also testified that Pillay’s file was kept in Moyane’s office for six months.

Earlier on Tuesday, the commission heard testimony from Athol Williams, a former consultant for Bain & Company, who alleged that Moyane had crafted a restructuring plan for the revenue service well before his appointment.

Williams said Moyane had on three occasions before his appointment indicated that he was assured of the post.

The restructuring plan resulted in 200 staff being summarily moved from their posts and caused long-term harm to Sars’s revenue-collection capacity. 

Gordhan last year submitted to the Zondo commission that Moyane conspired to have him charged and fired to ensure that a more malleable finance minister be appointed to further the state-capture project.

On Tuesday evening, advocate Dali Mpofu concluded his cross-examination of Gordhan on behalf of Moyane in the same vein in which it started in late November. Mpofu repeatedly put it to Gordhan that he had an insulting manner towards African people, and shocked the room when he snapped at the minister’s lawyer to “shut up”.